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Classical Magazine Review - June, 2009
Sowash - Three trios for violin, clarinet and piano

by Michèle Gingras

Rick Sowash. Three trios for violin, clarinet and piano. No. 1: Sunny Days (Suite) (1996); No. 2: American Variations on a Belorussian Folksong: “The Sun Already Shines” (2005); No. 3: Memories of Corsica (2007). www. sowash.com

Here are three delightful trios for violinclarinet and piano by a prolific Cincinnati composer who, luckily for us has had a long and ongoing love affair with the clarinet. A few decades ago, musicians were hard pressed to find works for this trio combination. The internationally acclaimed Verdehr Trio has championed the cause of expanding this repertoire by commissioning both audience friendly music and experimental pieces to our repertoire, including the third of these trios by Rick Sowash.

Sowash, 59, describes his work as being outside of the mainstream, shunning publishers, bookstores and academia, refusing even to name his alma mater, preferring not to “give any credit where credit’s not due.” He earned a living in a number of eclectic ways, such as storyteller, teacher, arts administrator, radio broadcaster, theater manager, county commissioner, innkeeper, writer, publisher, and church musician. He composed more than 200 musical works, and he is gaining an enviable reputation in the U.S. and abroad, most particularly for his chamber music, some of which won acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003.

Trio #1 for violin, A clarinet and piano: Sunny Days in four movements, composed in 1994, rev. 1996; duration 20 minutes. This is Rick Sowash’s best-selling piece including clarinet, and for good reason. Packed with toe-tapping exquisite themes and rhythms throughout, it is a sure bet for a successful concert program. Based on Belarusian folksongs (Republic of Belarus sits between Lithuania and Ukraine), the overall effect still sounds distinctly American, or as he puts it “somewhere between Gershwin and Copland.” There is also an available Bb clarinet part, which I find much more user friendly. The A clarinet part is less practical, with up to six flats. I prefer the Bb part, which makes the work relatively easy to play and much more idiomatic because of the lighter tone colors usually inherent to folk music.

Trio #2 for violin, A clarinet & piano: American Variations on a Belo- Russian Folksong: The Sun Already Shines, in one movement. Completed in 2005. Duration 16 minutes. The work is intended as a metaphor for the two cultures (American and Russian), joining together after a formerly hostile relationship during the Cold War. The short and delicious little Russian tune gradually shifts into an American sound, climaxing in an allout and fun ragtime variation. At the last minute though, Sowash returns to a multimeter Russian short statement as if to end the piece with a peace-making truce. The variations include Ballad, Tango, Sentimental Song, Copland-like Nationalistic expression and a Ragtime finale.

Trio #3 for violin, Bb clarinet & piano: Memories of Corsica, in three movements, composed in 2007 for the Verdehr Trio. Sowash’s visit to Corsica had a tremendous impact on him, as he musically depicts the country’s harsh landscape, the blue Mediterranean and its pristine beaches, the local culture, and intense cuisine. The movements are entitled Arid Heat, Aromatic Breezes, and Ardent Souls. The Verdehr Trio premiered the work in November, 2008, at the Phillips Collection Concert Series in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post described the work as “…an engaging, colorful tone poem in the time-honored genre of musical travelogue…full of exuberance and laughter.” The Verdehr Trio has exclusive performing rights to the piece through the end of 2009.

All three trios are relatively easy to play. My order of preference is #1, #2, #3 (#1 being the most audience accessible in style), however this order could easily be reversed depending on programming needs and preferences. Either way, I am getting to work learning these pieces as soon as I send off this review.

Sheet music available here...

 

   
"Packed with toe-tapping exquisite themes and rhythms throughout, it is a sure bet for a successful concert program."
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